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'Honor' Gang Rape Sentences Nixed

A woman who was gang-raped in Pakistan in a retaliatory "honor" attack said Saturday she is fearful after several of the alleged perpetrators were ordered released from prison.

Mukhtar Mai in June 2002 was raped by four men on the orders of a village council that wanted to punish her family.

The assault was ordered after Mai's brother was accused of having sex with a woman from a more prominent family, though Mai's family says the allegations were fabricated to cover up a sex assault against the boy by several men.

Mai's story captured global attention and prompted President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to order the arrest of the culprits. Within days six men were behind bars, and a judge sentenced them to death after finding them guilty.

On Thursday, however, an appeals court in Multan in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province ordered five of the men released because of a lack of evidence. The other had his death sentence reduced to life in prison.

While the five have yet to be released, Mai said she won't be safe in her village of Meerwala — 350 miles southwest of the capital, Islamabad — where the crime took place.

"I fear that those who were awarded death sentences can take any step after their release," a tearful Mai told The Associated Press, urging the government to provide her protection.

Mai, a 33-year-old teacher, said she would not leave her village and promised to appeal the court's decision.

"I will fight a legal battle to death. I want all those people who molested me hanged," she said.

Mai told a news conference in Islamabad that she had asked her lawyer to challenge the court verdict. "My case is not only in Pakistan court, but also in the court of God," she said.

"I hope that the Supreme Court of Pakistan will give me justice," Mai said.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the government would file an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan on Mai's behalf.

Mai is from the Gujar clan. The attackers were from a clan considered socially higher, called Mastoi.

She denied her 13-year-old brother Abdul Shakoor had relations with the Mastoi woman, saying the clan fabricated the story to cover up another incident, in which her brother was allegedly sexually assaulted by Mastoi men.

Mai said she cannot forget what happened on June 22, 2002, when they came to her house and accused Shakoor. Hours later, a village council summoned her father.

"I was worried about my brother, so I went there to see the proceedings," she said. "My father was defending Shakoor when a man caught me and started taking me to a house. I cried and asked for help. Some armed men caught my father. Later, four men took turns raping me and then threw me out of that house."

She said she would never forgive the people who saw her being dragged away but did nothing to help. "I heard laughter, and weeping there helplessly was only one man — my father," she said.